Shooting star: Remembering Tre’ Stylez

by Jordan Green

Virtually everyone who knew rapper Tr’ Stylez seems to agree that he was destined for critical and mass recognition much greater than the tight Greensboro circle from which he rose, much greater than even the North Carolina scene.

None of the local MCs considered him a rival. Almost to a one, they were joyous collaborators, inspired to greater heights by the time they spent onstage together. All, it seems, deferred to his greater talent and star-power, and none would have begrudged his likely success. Tr’ Stylez was a captivating performer, a peerless writer and a gifted group leader. For all the beers consumed and weed smoked, he worked tirelessly in the studio.

Which makes his untimely death in late 2005 all the more stinging and unfair. Tr’ Stylez died tragically and mysteriously, but it was a death at odds with his myth rather than in its mold.

I am one of those who was privileged to have known Richard ‘Trey’ Michaud, AKA Tr’ Stylez, however briefly. I encountered his jaw-dropping skills on the mic, his exuberant and generous personality and the instant warmth of his friendship. All his collaborators and fans would describe him exactly the same way.

In those days, I was in the habit of keeping the sources and subjects of my reporting at arms length, but I couldn t think of Tr’ as anything but a friend. We had planned to meet for an interview within days of his death, and I know that he was excited about his music career and prepared to conquer the future. I saw his last performance he ever gave, with the acoustic bluegrass-tinged outfit Swampboat. It was an experience that gave further confirmation of Tr’ Stylez’ ever-expanding musical pallet and his equally liberal web of friendships. When I tried to tell my editor about his death, I broke down in tears.

Those who didn’t know Tr’ Stylez, but only encountered him as a brief flash across the media landscape encapsulated in the storyline of “young rapper slain in violent incident” could, and did, misread events. Tr’ Stylez brilliant CD, Kill Me, with its cover image of a young man bound and gagged might be misinterpreted as evidence that the artist courted death. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“The average stupid person might look at it like a death wish,” says friend, MC and collaborator Metaphor in a new documentary entitled Tr’ Stylez: Music Is Life, directed and produced by Vincent Savage, the late artist’s uncle, and Russell Ingram. “Whereas I interpreted it — as soon as I found out what the name of the album was going to be — as, he’s gonna do him, take it or leave it. The most you can do is kill me. But still, at the end of the day I’m still gonna do what I do. Like, ‘F**k you. Sue me. This is what I am. And there’s nothing anyone can do that can stop it.’ And I think it’s been proven in his death that he still hasn’t been able to be stopped. ’Cause he’s still hot.” StitchyC, an MC and member of Tr’’s crew, concurs. “He didn’t want to die,” he says. “That’s his pain. His vent to get out is his lyrics. That’s his heart. If you see him at a show, he’s walking around having fun with everybody, cracking jokes, drinking beers, giving daps, meeting new people, getting onstage. All this aggression comes out. Gets off stage, he’s the same person. He’s always got a smile on his face, always got a beer in his hand trying to talk to somebody.”

Music Is Life is an appreciation of both elements by those who were intimately involved with Tr’ Stylez onstage, in the studio and in what seems from the outside like a nonstop party. As Tr’’s coconspirators attest, the music and life were, and are, inextricably bound, with partying running a close third. The movie lingers, only as much as necessary, on the troubling unfinished business of Tr’’s death. Most of all, this movie is a celebration.

And that’s what the premiere on Saturday at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Greensboro will be.

StitchyC, Metaphor, DJ Phillie Phresh, Will Zay, Ed E. Ruger and Celinski — all artists who shared stages and friendships with Tr’ — will be performing before and after the film showing, and an after-party will carry on at Somewhere Else Tavern, a venue that embraced the late artist early in his career.

For me, this film brings some relief, and restores Tr’. I had planned to write about him as a musician, and instead ended up applying my investigative journalism skills to attempting to unravel the mystery of his death. The results were unsatisfying to everyone — me, least of all. The Greensboro Police Department came to the conclusion that Tr’ Stylez died of a selfinflicted gunshot wound that was likely accidental during the early morning hours of a party in Lindley Park. Neither Tr’’s family nor many of his friends believe that’s really what happened. The people who were closest to Tr’ were not at that party, and recollections of the artist’s last moments are shrouded in a haze of alcohol.

I still feel a profound sense of loss. The events of his death make no sense in the context of his life. The best way to describe it is a void, and perhaps Tr’’s collaborator, Sleezy B, does that best.

“It’s kind of weird, it’s like he was the general of an army of lost souls,” Sleezy B says, “and I was just the sergeant. I was used to getting orders. It’s different not getting a phone call from one of my best friends that I’ve ever met in my life telling me to show up this time, let’s practice.’”